Taylor Phinney has worn the pink jersey in the Giro d'Italia, won overall at the Tour of Dubai, scored wins in four professional individual time trials and earned multiple rainbow jerseys at the track world championships. But the 23-year-old from Boulder, Colorado, ranks his solo win Thursday at the Tour of California near the very top of his palmares.
"I judge this win more on how it happened and where it was than the level of the race," Phinney (BMC) said after slipping away from a reduced peloton about 26km from the finish in Santa Barbara for his first California stage win.
"I've won some time trials in the past," he said. "And winning a time trial is nice, but you don't get the same feeling as when you win a road stage. You don't have that moment where you put your hands up with a couple hundred meters to go and really soak in the energy from the crowd. You get goosebumps and you have this kind of electric shock that goes through you. You don't get that magic when you win a time trial. This is my second road stage win, and it feels as good as the first one, that's for sure."
Phinney pulled off a similar win last year during stage 4 at the Tour of Poland, but he said winning in his home country is special.
Phinney's solo move came soon after the peloton had crossed the only KOM of the day on San Marcos Pass. The six-foot-five-inch rider attacked the bunch and slung himself down the fast, non-technical descent in Santa Barbara with abandon, building a gap of 35 seconds and apparently caught off guard a napping peloton, which had been suffering over a long day of intense heat.
"I wasn't planning to attack at the top," Phinney said. "If anything I was going to attack with maybe 4km or 5km to go. But I just saw where the group was, the way Cannondale was kind of isolated. Degenkolb was dropped. Cav was dropped. I just went on instinct and went for it. I know there's only one time in cycling I have an advantage, and it's when we're going downhill. I weigh a lot more than everybody else, and I was able to kind of just pull away and accelerate up to speed, then tuck and keep pulling away."
Phinney had a gap of more than 30 seconds as he came off of the descent and into the coastal California town. From there he put his pursuit and time trialing skills to work and powered for the line. Cannondale and Orica-GreenEdge chased furiously for Peter Sagan and Matthew Goss, respectively, but it was all for not as Phinney, who slouched over his bars to mimic a time trial position, poured on the power and stayed away by just 12 seconds.
"I wasn't convinced that it was a very smart move until I got close the finish and my gap stayed pretty constant," he said. "I just never looked back and committed to it. ... I think it's a really special way to win the way I happened to do it today. Sometimes the stars kind of align, and that's when you're able to do cool things like that. I did it last year in Poland. I guess it's sort of my style. It's really, really painful. I suffer a lot, but it's worth it at the end of the day."